The “Queer” Case of Aaron Hall

35-year old Crothersville, Indiana resident Aaron Hall lost his life on April 12, 2007. According to court records, three of his friends beat Hall for hours, dumped him in a ditch, came back a few days later, at which point one of the accused fired shots at Hall’s body, which may or may not have already been lifeless.

A number of gay blogs have covered the story. Some of you wondered why we’ve yet mentioned what some people are describing as the most gruesome anti-gay hate crime since Matthew Shepherd. The answer to that’s just as complicated as the alleged killer’s accounts of incident.

You see, the killers – Garrett Gray, John Hodge and Coleman King – claim they attacked Aaron Hall after he made gay advances toward King. From King’s Jackson County Court affidavit:

King said they were all drinking beer and whiskey when Hall grabbed him in the groin asking King to perform oral sex.

King said he punched Hall then jumped on him punching him several more times. King said Gray also punched Hall while King held Hall down.

King said Gray also held Hall down while beating him. King said Hall was bleeding, his eye swollen shut and he was spitting up blood.

King said Gray dragged Hall down the stairs by his feet and his head bounced down all of the steps.

King said they loaded Hall into the back of the pick up and continued beating Hall as Hendricks drove south to the dirt farm lane.

King said they pulled Hall from the truck and left him in a ditch. King admitted to striking Hall a few more times. The trio then left Hall in the ditch.

Considering the “queer” undertones, this should seem like a standard hate crime. Some are wondering if it should be considered such, however, because Hall didn’t identify as gay. Bilerico recently featured a feature asserting:

The problem that folks are going to have in trying to promote the story as a reason to enact hate crimes legislation (and the reason why I haven’t blogged about it before) is simple – Aaron Hall wasn’t a gay man. He was a middle-aged, white, straight man and the last I checked, hate crimes legislation was about protecting members of a minority group when someone commits a crime intended to intimidate other members of the community. This simply doesn’t fit the definition of a hate crime.

Some say Hall didn’t make a gay advance at all, but had simply insulted King’s late mother and, perhaps, lobbed the common so-called insult, “Suck my dick”. Drunk and irate, King began wailing on Hall. The other men then joined in the fun, beating him for hours, dragging him down stairs, taking a pictures with Hall’s bloodied body and calling their friends to brag about beating Hall. That friend, John Hodge, would later call the police, who took at least a week to follow up on Hodge’s tip. It would only be later, after they were arrested, that the terrible trio would call Hall a queer.

According to one Crothersville resident, Hall didn’t do dudes, but had recently been plagued by anti-gay rumors. Advance Indiana wrote on April 29:

Before police publicly announced the arrests of Coleman King, Garrett Gray and James Hendricks, rumors were circulating around town claiming that the accused were saying Aaron was gay and that he had AIDS according to Horton. She worries that this might be part of an effort to shift the blame away from the accused and towards the victim by stigmatizing him in the hope of getting off easy. In a small community like Crothersville, virtually no potential juror would come to the case without prior knowledge of “alleged” or “rumored” facts. “While hate crimes are certainly terrible, people are losing sight that this man was not gay in the slightest, it was a ploy to make their crime seem justifiable since it seems to be condoned by some evil people in this world,” [Crothersville resident Leslie Horton] said. This defense strategy is referred to in legal circles as the “gay panic” defense.

The gay panic strategy’s certainly worked in the past. Accused abusers claim to have been so upset by a gay advance, they’re suddenly stricken with murderous insanity. Such a claim could hold water in court, but that still doesn’t address the question of whether or not Aaron Hall’s death should count as a hate crime.

A hate crime, by definition, constitutes a crime committed because of known or perceived race, sexual orientation, gender identity, et al. Say Hall wasn’t gay, but the men thought him a bit light in the loafers. If, in fact, they beat Hall as a result, this would count as a hate crime. The men, however, knew Hall well, so we can assume they knew he identified as “heterosexual”. Thus, Hall’s murder shouldn’t be deemed a hate crime.

So, should gay media play this as a “gay story”. No. That only feeds into what seems to be a not-so-clever defense tactic. Should this be used to help for Indiana to adopt a hate crime law? Yes.

By playing the gay panic card, however, the three accused killers are, in effect, making this a hate crime. They can’t go back on their word now, so they’ll stand trial under the assumption Hall made a “gay” remark. If found guilty, then, they’ll be guilty for killing a man because he’s gay. Unfortunately, Indiana doesn’t include sexuality or gender identity in their hate crime laws. So, should this case be used to fight for more comprehensive hate crimes. We say yes. It may not have been a proper hate crime, but the defense is definitely casting it in a lavender light. Thus, legal types should consider this just like any other hate crime, even if it isn’t.